Israel is still delaying the transfer of funds from Qatar to Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and will decide on the matter based on the nature of Friday's planned protest along the border. Hamas leadership has rejected any attempt to link the funds to quelled protests, and said any delay in transferring the money will lead to escalation.
Meanwhile, foreign diplomats told Haaretz they are concerned that the ongoing delay in transiting the money could lead to another escalation between Israel and Gaza. At the same time, Israel has recently signaled that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeks a calm front ahead of the April 9 election.
According to understandings reached with Hamas at the time, the money transfers are supposed to continue right up to the election. According to several diplomats, Netanyahu may be mulling walking back these understandings given the political price of photographs depicting suitcases of money arriving in Gaza.
Walid Awad from the Palestinians' Peoples Party Hezb-a-Shaab accused Qatar Ambassador to the Gaza Strip Mohammed al-Emadi of pressuring Hamas into putting a complete stop to the protests in return for the money. Though Hamas rejected this claim, it did not rule out the possibility that the funds are not being transferred due to Israeli political considerations.
Netanyahu, a Hamas senior official told Haaretz, is measuring any step he takes right now in terms of electoral loss or gain. "The transfer of the Qatari money does not serve him well at the moment," the official said, adding that "he will try or is trying to extort something from Hamas. At the end of the day, the continued pressure on the Gaza Strip could blow up in Netanyahu's face."
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The senior Hamas official also said that withholding the money would prompt Hamas to launch airborne firebombs and send forces to damage the border fence.
Meanwhile, senior Hamas official Ismail Radwan told Al-Resalah website that future protests are not dependent on Qatari money. "The goal of the marches is completely remove the siege," he said. "Israel's attempts to backtrack on the understandings will only increase motivation to continue the marches using the tools that the organizers have at their disposal.
Also on Thursday, media outlets close to Hamas reported that Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov to discuss the situation on the ground.